Lawmakers say they expect House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will soon end her delay of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial without any notable concessions from Senate Republicans, leaving her allies stumped about her strategy in the three-week standoff.
Senior Democrats in the House insisted publicly that the speaker has given them no hints on timing for sending the two articles of impeachment over to the Republican-controlled Senate, the step that would trigger an immediate opening of the historic impeachment trial.
Amid speculation about her rationale and expressions of exasperation from Democrats in the House and Senate -- delivered almost exclusively on condition of anonymity -- Pelosi offered only cryptic clues.
“I’m not holding them indefinitely. I’ll send them when I’m ready, and that probably will be soon,” Pelosi said Thursday.
Some lawmakers said they took that to mean sometime in the coming days the House impeachment managers will be named and the articles of impeachment formally transmitted to the Senate. But that won’t come before next week.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters Friday that he didn’t expect any action on impeachment before lawmakers leave Washington for the weekend.
Pelosi’s ability to influence the rules for the impeachment trial has dwindled as her standoff with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has dragged on.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wants votes on calling witnesses who did not testify in the House investigation, but Pelosi hasn’t made a specific demand -- saying only she wants to see the rules for how the impeachment trial will be conducted. McConnell, however, has made clear he has no interest in or need to compromise.
On Thursday Pelosi argued there had been real benefits since deciding in the hours after the House impeached Trump on Dec. 18 to not quickly send the articles to the Senate. In that time, she said, new documents that Democrats see as pivotal emerged, and a key witness, former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton, has said he’s willing to testify to the Senate under subpoena.
McConnell has insisted that the trial would follow the template for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. That would defer any vote on hearing witnesses or reviewing new evidence until after the House managers and Trump’s lawyers make their cases.
Four Republicans could join with all Democrats to provide a majority in favor of hearing witnesses. Or, 51 of 53 Republicans in the Senate could vote to dismiss the case without additional evidence.
While a few Senate Democrats said this week that the time has come for the trial to get underway, the party’s House members are standing solidly behind Pelosi. Yet there also were signs of confusion about why the standoff is continuing and when it will end.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith of Washington State told CNN Thursday morning that “it’s time” for Pelosi to send the articles to the Senate only to reverse course a couple of hours later.
“I don’t know. And that was the mistake I made this morning in trying to answer that question,” Smith said Thursday afternoon.
He said he “wholeheartedly” supports Pelosi’s position because, like the speaker, he’s concerned that McConnell won’t conduct a fair trial and “we should do everything we can to ensure he does.” He insisted that he was not put under any Pelosi pressure to flip his stance.
Pelosi said she wanted to see what procedures the Senate would have for the trial and expressed skepticism that McConnell would follow the rules set down for the Clinton impeachment.
”It doesn’t mean that we have to agree to them, or like them. We just want to know what they are,” she said.
Preparation for the trial is under way, and Pelosi met Thursday afternoon with Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler. Nadler, who likely will be a leader on the House management team prosecuting the case, would only say that, “the articles will be sent when they’re sent.”
Before that happens, under the process approved the night Trump was impeached, the House must first pass a resolution officially appointing the House managers’ team, and authorizing some trial expenses and the transfer of evidence. Then, the articles -- one charging abuse of power and the other obstruction of Congress -- can be formally delivered to the Senate, which then would immediately trigger the opening proceedings of the trial.
Some House Democrats, even in defending Pelosi, suggested the public is either unconcerned about the delay or losing interest in the battle.
“I can honestly say that I was inundated for the last six to eight months with demands that I vote to impeach,” said Representative Gerald Connolly of Virginia, a House Foreign Affairs Committee member. But he added, “I did not have a single constituent in the last two and one-half weeks approach me and say you have to deliver those articles of impeachment.”
Continuing the deadlock gives Republicans more ammunition to attack both Pelosi and the House impeachment inquiry, which McConnell has called “slipshod.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California on Thursday that lawmakers in Pelosi’s own party “have no idea what she’s doing” by holding the articles.
“The only person who does not believe it’s time is Speaker Pelosi, and I do not know why,” he said.
“Maybe the case is too weak.”
There are external political consequences of a longer delay. Five Senate Democrats are running for the party’s presidential nomination and a trial would mostly keep them pinned down in Washington serving as jurors in the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3. Three more nominating contests follow in quick succession.
One of those candidates, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, said staying in the capital could deal a “big, big blow” to his struggling campaign.